A pitcher who landed on a minor league pro baseball team remembers playing downtown as a kid
While many of Nolan Becker’s classmates from Yale University have chosen to start their post-graduate lives in the northeast, occupying desks in the skyscrapers that dot the landscapes of New York City and Boston, Becker chose Billings, Montana. Or, rather Billings, Montana chose him.
The 22-year-old, who grew up near Union Square, was drafted to play professional baseball after his junior year of college in 2012. He is currently pitching for the Billings Mustangs, a minor league team in the Cincinnati Reds organization.
Becker, who spent his whole life in the northeast, admits that it has been an adjustment moving to Montana. He said, “Sometimes I miss home, being in the wide, openness of this place. Then again, it’s also relaxing to just be able to focus on baseball without other distractions.”
In minor league professional baseball, the game schedule is jam packed and between the end of June and beginning of September, Becker is on the field nearly every day. It’s something that Becker never imagined for himself while playing as part of the Greenwich Village Little League during grade school. It even took time for Becker’s father, who coached some of his Little League teams, to recognize the extent of his son’s talent.
Becker joked, “I always wanted to be a pitcher, but I didn’t get to do it until I was 12 years old. My dad just didn’t think I was good enough.” Only a few years later, he went on to pitch a perfect game as part of his high school baseball team.
Manhattan is not known as a fecund training ground for professional baseball players. Unlike the top notch Little League organizations and training clinics found in California, Texas, and Florida, the leagues in New York City are much more casual. To hone his skills, Becker not only played as part of the baseball team at his academically prestigious alma mater, Stuyvesant High School, but also as part of travel leagues that took him to games each weekend in Connecticut, Westchester, and Long Island.
While his parents passionately supported his interest in baseball, Becker readily admitted you don’t get a lot of recognition for playing baseball in New York City the way you do in other parts of the country. In high school, the 6’6” left-handed pitcher was also a star player on the basketball team and his classmates knew him for his skills on the court. Becker said, “When people heard that I was playing sports in college, they were pretty sure is was basketball, not baseball.”
Because there are less opportunities for baseball players to hone their skills in New York City, Becker also anticipated that he would be up against a steep learning curve when he finally moved onto college baseball. However, it wasn’t a lack of skill that nearly derailed his baseball career, but a serious elbow injury he sustained at the beginning of his freshman year that required surgery.
Becker explained, “It took me two and a half years to get back to the level I was at. There was a time when I thought I might not be able to play professional baseball.”
During his junior year, Becker began to explore alternatives beyond sports. As an economics major, he started to research careers in the realm of finance and nearly took an internship in investment banking. Still, he instinctively knew he should stick with baseball and at the end of his junior year was recruited to play professionally.
“It was up to whether I could persevere in chasing the dream, or not. Fortunately I decided to keep chasing the dream,” he said.
Becker played last summer with the Billings Mustangs and then returned to Yale in the fall for a semester. He has one semester of school to finish and will look to complete his degree during his off season. In the meantime, he plans to wrap up the current season with the Billings Mustangs and then join an instructional league for a month in September.
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